Skip to main content

Full text of "Waking in a tree"

See other formats


UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/wakingintreeOOhugh 



WAKING IN A TREE 



WAKING IN A TREE 

poems by Daniel Hughes 



Clarke & Way, Inc., New York 



Some of these poems have appeared in Poetry (Chicago), The At- 
lantic, The Paris Review, The Quarterly Review of Literature, The 
Southwest Review, Voices, The New York Review, The Braithwaite 
Anthology of Magazine Verse, 1958, Borestone Mountain Poetry 
Awards: Best Poems, 1959, and The Massachusetts Review. 




Copyright © 1965 by Daniel Hughes 

Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 63-18751 



Table of Contents 

Waking in a Tree II 

In Klee's Gardens 13 

Castrato to Audience 14 

Song from a Dance of Death: Idiot 13 

From Leonardo's Notebooks 16 

Allegory of Prudence ij 

Kokoro 19 

The Last Act 20 

Noon Movie 21 

Thirty 2} 

Not Yet 24 

Lord Chandos to His Wife 27 

Those Two 31 

Rimbaud 1891 33 

Hokusai 34 

Geisha in Moonlight 36 

Sebastian in Heaven 38 

Relic 42 

Workaday 43 

More Games 44 

A Map to Your House 43 

Lines for Mary 46 

The Quarrel 47 

lealousy 49 

Dialogue in Lieu of Anything Else 31 

On the Plain 32 

Testings 34 



To Teresa Foley 



Waking in a Tree 



Waking in a Tree 

To wake standing, but at ease, the neck drawn up 

Not as to a yoke, but held in space 

More definite than one had dreamed, the arms 

Cruciform but painless, veins thudding barky branch 

To gesture of surrender, no leap 

Out of a nighttime's sloth, but a balancing, 

A sign of passage, pale markers at a road; 

And to feel legs at last shoot down through earth, 
Plummet-lines sounding loam, to their center 
Weightlessly dropping, deeper than the ground, 
A place to stand in 5 and to feel the whole torso 

Brought against barrier that gentles it, 

Chest medalled to wood, heart glad of its double cage, 

Free in confinement, heart-shielded to sun; 

And to feel ears loud as acorns, listen only 
For drop of sap, the creak of blood and sap, 
Hear only the glad heart hidden there, 
Until all sound becomes an ear to listen; 
And then, only then, to feel eyes try the world, 
Like curtains closing on a sudden room. 

What a mirror then! As though past image 
The fiber of an eye beyond all looking 
Grew taut with an old complexity 
But the looking held its single object true . . . 



11 



To wake in that tree, in the winter of that tree, 

Is but a waiting, the senses waiting, 

Nothing of the senses that is not waiting, 

Even the mind waiting to leaf, to lose, to look upon 

The rigors of such a wilful paradise. 



12 



In Klee's Gardens 

How the edge of a wing can sting! 

It places my bare feet on gentle squares, 

The clean cool feet of a child just scrubbed by mother; 

It sets me down alone in my favorite room. 

I've been here before, before the fist on glass, 

The clocks, the shadows, those demands to stand in place 

Like a fork on the left, like a spoon on the right. 

I can hide from them here; I take off my face 

And enter. How fragile are the flowers ! 
How heartlessly they delight to be seen! 
Because I know enough to know these colors can come tumbling 

down, 
I sit on the border and think of green. 

There is the gate of the deserted garden, 
There are the yellow vines waiting for my hands. 
But my feet are dirty again and mother is coming. 
I wish I had never seen such hurtful lands. 



*3 



Castrato to Audience 

I am ungardened, emptied of all thought. 
Tall as a giraffe, hairless as a hanging pig, 
I stand shucked before you, bearing the price. 
Knock-kneed, loose, with belly protruding big 
As a woman sick with small birth, will this suffice 
The greed, the nagging joy your senses sought? 
I can sway in your ears until the bones 
Of your head outsoar origin and loss ; 
I can make you a music where the stars cross, 
Warmer than all the planetary tones. 

I love it. Standing in front of you I climb 

And fall and wing: crescendo-decrescendo 

And my lady bursts her bodice 5 the cardinal cries 

Bravo ! from his chair — in my steep glissando 

Their precious toes curl like bashful eyes. 

And once, when the king moped away his time, 

His jesters and his whores grown dull as words, 

The queen's cunning medicine to please, 

I hid in his bedroom and made him seize 

The reins of state with a capon's chords . . . 

Dear father, master of all the arts, when 

You brought me to the hot needle and the thumbs 

That burned music in my thighs, I hated you. 

But see where the sickly, mewliDg trumpet comes 

For challenge. Let the fat burgher blow and blow, 

My throat denies him! . . . Ladies and gentlemen 

I shall now melt the air! Maestro, attendez! 

With fugato sweet and cantilena chaste 

I fix your eyes on heaven . . . Below the waist, 

The bats grind darkness, the snakes spit up their prey. 



Song from a Dance of Death : Idiot 

Freed from the stain of their conscious choices, 
I grew into the maculate, foreign world. 
Where else might I crawl where no green voices 
Woke in the shrubs a brotherly, close tongue, 
Or where else might I flee, or whom walk among 
When I saw the lion and unicorn curled? 

In my husk of flesh I walked the city 

Where the leaves trembled and the secret God 

Cast on autumn the colors of his pity. 

But they found me by the barricades 

And brought me from hunger into the shades 

Of the king's great court to be his precious ward. 

Monato the monkey understood me, 

And the sparhawk called from his fiery cage 

To unloose the chains of his ecstasy. 

But I was wrapped in an antic mask 

And pushed into the hall that I might task 

The patience of the eunuch — or his rage. 

My innocence gleamed like a single sun 
And giggles broke like thistles on my fear. 
My vision was their laughter, and I spun 
Upon my toes to give them the delight 
That dulls the savage corners of the light, 
Until the lion sprang and I came here. 

And came into this dark lucidity 

Where I am man and bone and captive dancer. 

The unicorn is not so white, so true, 

As the dawnless, pure gestures you make 

Within the landscape of my will. 

O Dancer, rattle their bones on the black hill. 



15 



From Leonardo's Notebooks 

That man is a type of the world. 

So be it. Adonis hunting for a wound 

Found the darling boar perfect in pursuit, 

All his longing gathered there, yet longing still, 

As now the mind turns from the snout of the world 

To groin itself upstairs from pain, cornucopia 

Of each return that is something less than sleep. 

Amphibian, lucid, moorless, I mount the stair, 

Through the hot hall where the postman's bloody feet 

Like echoes rot the banister and the washerwoman 

At her thick-kneed rites sits on the mail. 

Is this hall the world? In Leonardo's sight, 

Sick with longing for its primal tree? 

Do the stairs feel symbols tack them tighter? 

As I climb, source-full to the sourceless end, 

The kitchen smiles above me, and the door swings back. 

It is logical in open air to feel things one. 

Fume, flash, vein of leaf or star, 

All are falling hugger-mugger to beginning, or tilt 

Their forces forward to the unharvest of all form. 

But in this cage where light mistakes a cranny for a cry, 

What need we remember? This house surrounds the self 

Like clothes distracting simple sex to fantasy. 

A roast chars itself behind the door, 

Cunning, quiescent, delirious to be done, 

A type of the world, but the world no type of me. 

At the end of motion: home: dishes that are names. 

I enter, I come to chairs shaped like tomorrow, 

A dream of the world, but the world no dream of me. 

Then the goat-grin of the mirror hangs me on its hip. 

I think of sick Adonis with the face of a boar, 

Gnomic, but mine own. 

16 



Allegory of Prudence 



I WOLF 

To the left which is backward and down a dim way 

I sent him sniffing to startle 

That man coming forward, arms like batons, 
Legs like bloody drumsticks pounding silent earth, 
Who slips on dwindling grass when he sees my wolf sail, 
And, too late, turns back, while his soul rips under him. 

How fine that now your words cannot wound me, 
That guilt like overdone toast pops free at last! 
In the dim corridor the busy wolf 
Kneads down the doughy past. 

Dear Tooth, trot below my hand till I need you. 

II LION 

Trainers with their heads in assorted maws 
Learn to live with the bad breath of the present 
As, parting the vines, dragging their sores, 
They lead a lion where they may steal his cloak. 

Today I rose like a tawny joke, and all 

Who met me felt the feral stir of the jungle. 

Chomp the grounds in the cup ! Slog through the wet leaves ! 

Stalk down the ringing pavements ! 

Today I am huge and horrible 
And will not be tickled into love. 

III DOG 

To the right, blinking cautiously out, 
Nostradamus, the dog, bleats for biscuits. 
His whimper's a siren that no one heeds; 
He's modest, collared, and wears neat tweeds. 



*7 



En avant! Dragging the twin sleds of Wish and Would, 

He mimics Valley Forge's civic feet. 

I do not like him; I'd beat him if I could. 

Yet Dog, go ahead, seek the future's hopeful host, 
Dog at the end of your rope, oracling a post. 



18 



Kokoro 

to Beongcheon Yu 

I step in the savage orders of the noon, 

The loungers in front of hedges, the sneers 

On cigarettes, and all the wistful years 

We planned on come upon too soon. 

Now weakness drones like trucks pulling over hills, 

Winks at the corners its irresolute yellow, 

Pushing me from island to island, shallow 

With memory, kept by all the keepers' tills. 

For what is absence? At the heart of things 

A hieratic poem forever mute 

Like those translations whose impatient root 

We never got quite right. Yet something brings 

Me semblance in the traffic of the self's complaint. 

A sudden street we knew; your smile: the passion of restraint. 



19 



The Last Act 

The last act is always bloody. — PASCAL 

The last act always bloody, yes, 

But no stage need set the arras round 

Where victor and victim lie 

Deceived confusedly: Macduff 

Tangled with his villain on the ground, 

Or softer, Puccini's climactic cough 

Gentling the footlights with a sob. 

Take this man of sixty who sleeps long, 

Wondering who they are who rob 

Him every evening of the past — 

Whenever eye sinks down, they're at the sill 

To jimmy loose his will ; 

And, entering, arrange a scene to last. 

Expectations for his son become 

A backward quilting for his loss; 

For the rest, self-sorrowed to an ash, 

He ponders the promised childhood cross, 

But finds that promise rash. 

And, dropping off, knows the play 

Is gathering its ingenious force, 

The signs fulfilling form by 

Echoing the play's deep source: 

Creaking stair, bent messenger's return, 

Too late the ravelling to learn — 

Who speaks the curtain-line through him, 

The last act a bloodbath, all labor dim. 



20 



Noon Movie 

Outside: that cripple once again denied 

Who at lunchtime coffers best his usual trade; 

Inside: just past observation that has spied 

Him once too often seeking cheaper shade 

Than night's show can give, he steps within a wish, 

Counting how many others there must be : 

Six kids, three lady-shoppers, and a fish 

Turned drunken man, flopped beside his private sea, 

While the fading newsreel forever trails 

A vision of a nothing dress, a cerecloth 

For dead models. First, a picture about whales — 

How mechanical the Pequod now, for both 

Captain and crew stay a mortar's length 

Away from blood — surely that man's more bravely calm 

Who, in the long whale of his own strength, 

Rests at noontide, free from the sun's great harm; 

And dives deeper, the Jonah of his will, 

When the feature spreads the brain with badlands, 

And the hero appears astride the hill 

Overlooking town, then rides down, his hands 

Steady on reins, sweated with the questing miles. 

For here, at long last, is art's promised quiet, 

Although the kids run up and down the aisles, 

As though to tempt him to their riot; 

Still, the silence of the hero's mind becomes his mind 

As the world spins lovely formula to win 

Him to assent. The denouement they find 

Just when the story flattens to some thin 

Question of romance perfects the waiting form; 

Yet while the chase begins his soul unwinds to fear, 

Knowing that though this ghost has kept him warm, 

Two o'clock and all his life are near . . . 



21 



What could a final clinch teach him of despair? 
There: the sudden, shocking street to cross, 
The cripple, the towering afternoon. 
He checked the bill, vowing to come back soon. 



22 



Thirty 

And how does a life unfold, put forth its flower 
In a dirty time? Are you Sinbad, groundless, 
Free-floating, who at any hour 
May start a fifth or hundredth voyage to the west? 

O the Fates are fed up with expectation. 

Their hands are rigid spindles now, 

And were, even when you dreamed of deep-sea divers 

Or skiers tracing gold across an Arctic snow. 

We talked all night, lashing rafts with our hands, 
You to New Zealand to try a pastoral flute, 
And I, soggy on shore, waving parchment, 
Calling mind, mind! But mind's a rotting fruit. 

Coffee could not console, with its dawn 

Of crippled diplomats stockpiling fears. 

And I thought of how Eckermann saw Goethe dead: 

The self-won lucid limbs of eighty years. 



2 3 



Not Yet 

As a poet, dozing among his meters, 

In a cheating adagio of his dream, 

Finds frame and dusty sill on which to lean 

His schizophrenic elbows, so I stare 

Into the street, hearing with Emily 

The street come running, from everywhere 

Put on the swiftness of its tyrant air, 

Come running, find the magical country, 

The lucid pavement, the summer pool 

Where the white swimmers stretch their limbs to loll 

No, it is winter and the cerecloth street 

Stiffens in the dull procession of the snow. 

We know it as we know our muffled hearts, 

Abstraction, accident under our feet 

Unseasonally, bearing our prints like holes 

To Cathay, to corridors under dreams. 

Awake, I stare into the street for themes 

And find a car with chains, two women, and the trees. 

Did Tolstoy's heroine, laughing in the snow, 

Sharp stars, pink cheeks, come to his mind like these? 

I doubt it. Playing it safe, I must watch 
My image fill the glass with its familiar good 
And, indulgent painter, make my content 
Form; with the myth, the story, the frozen god 
Keep the street where it belongs, delight the mind, 
Hang in the delicate museums of despair . . . 
You find in this an egotistic flaw? 
Self-portrait, the painter's rare advantage — 
A shame that Narcissus never learned to draw 
But mumbled like a poet, undersea. 

How, then, will I meet you? In what embrace? 
24 



Be not over-kind, but middling-gentle, wear a face 
Not mine, give me back more than I can give. 
We meet at the window. I feel our fears 
Frost at the world's edge, on the world's coldest glass. 
Not yet, not yet, can I reach your answers, 
Faces in mufflers, muffled shadows racing 
Down my glass until the glass with nature's tears 
Goes blind, and I hear, on the walks of the town, 
The laden avalanche of loss come down. 



25 



Lord Chandos to His Wife 



The speaker, taken from HofmannsthaV s story, 

is a young Renaissance nobleman, 

to whom all forms in which experience is normally 

ordered have become absurd. 

He is speaking to his wife, 

as they both face outward through a 

window looking onto a garden. 



Murdered me 5 why I have no thoughts at all. 
Run your hands along my temples where something 
Beats like a sea with no land, or a cry 
Timbreless, unhouselled of any throat. 
For dry, dry that full April tongue will call 
And only the treacherous, magian spring 
Striding through the ferns with potent thigh 
Will hear, subtle with ear of ram and stoat. 
What did you expect to find in this head? 
Some center, some knowledgeable grace, 
The hierarchy of custom's sweetness? 
These are sick and, murdering, have murdered me. 
When you turn, sun- veiled, sun-given, to my face, 
I know nothing of you except that nothingness 
I dote on. From our chaining flesh we are free, 
With all names put by, all duties dead. 

You misunderstand. We are not free for love, 
But for being, as when, in year's last spring, 
The well suddenly lipped its emptiness 
And the beetle at its rim called me there. 
Within the miracle of the changing air, 
That gossamer, black body grew a thing 
Palpable, lurched upon the world's fullness 
To come upon my speech like dust, to move 
In me the dominion of his dying. 
Then all thresholds seemed to take April 
Within the tidy dungeons of my brain. 
And lust, grown cold in familiar flame, 

26 



Returned in the loose unfolding of the rain, 
Not for possession by the brutal will 
And not for use — only as the incautious sighing 
Of the grasses that would green my human name. 

Often, I had thought of waking thus: with birds 

Somehwere in a stumbling aviary, 

My head new, my tongue fresh beyond flaw. 

I would sob my bird-grief and shake my beak 

And one, touching my temples, would hear words 

Not better made by the rook and jackdaw. 

And this had come. (Stay with me ... I speak 

Only of that dream in which we always die.) 

Consider the great world on such a day: 

The furred horizon and the antlered west 

Worked in me their poise, and the wind's plumage spoke 

A light more tenuous than departure. 

Starting from that dream, on a seamless quest, 

I sought your certitudes. But the day 

Betrayed me, and love's sweet alembic broke 

In the season's fist and bled with its scar. 

So I left the bright syntax of my youth. 

When that was done, what could I seek but things? 

Of roundness, of tensions, of currents claimed 

By this new earth, adamantine and unseen? 

This was the logic that the bone retained, 

And more: the high, deep-patterned grass, the sheen 

On the blackest roach, the light on the wings 

Of hawks as they moved, whose silver flared its truth 

Above the groan of summer: then globes grown too large, 

Corollas unfolding and, within, the lip 

Torn by the kiss of the sun leaning 

To the geometric shudder of the buds ! 



27 



Between the pollen and the pall of time, what targe 

Of speech could fight those warming floods? 

I saw the full rose break flame at its tip 

Through all the months of the earth's hot dreaming. 

Then autumn leap, the dancer whose red art 

Attempted every posture, every ruin 

Without discord. In motley air the sound 

Of her passing shook leaves upon my eyes 

And held from profanation the ground 

Of this seeing. Where, if not in the heart, 

Did the chestnuts thud their grief and bark stiffen 

Against October's amniotic cries 

When we came into our classic dying? 

Walking in snow, I saw the intricacy 

Of loss, the Daedalean labors kept 

By winter's craftsmen. Silent, unattended, 

My mind grew shapeless as the field lying 

Below our sills: gusty, pure, from which a sigh 

Blew off, as though the handless Parcae wept 

To see their fabric mended . . . 

What restless, plenary sea then sought me? 
Windows pitched 5 I heard terraces buckle 
In the assaults, the great chordal fires 
Of March winds. And, in my pedant's room, 
Crevices like dreams opened craftily, 
Pages turned to grass and the sharp tickle 
Of new death rose upon my palm's desire. 
I heard in churchyards dusted by the moon 
The dicing laugh of dead philosophers, 
While below the pastoral, foolish lawns 
The seeds of this labyrinth tried to sing. 
Laughing, I made sly apothegms of dirt 



28 



And with a dying rhetorician's lures 
Held only a captive worm . . . The long hurt 
Of the year's body then turned beyond all horns. 
I stood on summit earth in man's first spring. 

These words fall like fading motes upon your flesh 

And are changed before I speak again. Driven 

To words, driven beyond them, I cannot yield 

What you would wrest from me and bearing, bear. 

Leaning, I cup your breast and the mesh 

Of your hair undone is the cleft of air 

Through which I fall. O thief, trampled field, 

Making and remaking what was given 

Only once, where are the selving shadows 

We once cherished, each to each other and alone? 

If we love, let it be as wraiths that move 

Silently along that crystalline wall 

Where twilight takes the sill and turns the bone 

To coral like our west. What god knows 

Our inner names? What gestures may yet prove 

We are more than parchments claim or call? . . . 

At year's end, this loosening and this sleep. 

Language is the ultimate adultery, 

Farthest from the flawed antennae dancing 

In the hurricane of sense. You see this cup? 

It is a perilous transparency, 

Nothing I have known, brilliancy dancing 

The end, the loosening, the sleep 

That are burning my tinder language up. 

Hard flesh fruit and the bark of waking trees 

Anneal me . . . there can be no more names. 

A garden grows in me, its brimming well 

Ringing in my brain, ringing me its lip and home. 



2 9 



Let me stand. The sun busies in my skull, 
Stitching its truth within the April flames, 
And, taut from Primavera's palms, the lucid bees 
Affirm I am Her fragment and Her foam. 



3° 



Those Two 

I EVE TO SATAN 

Ah, I've learned: the shining fold, the summer, 
Yourself like a fan astride a seamless pool, 
My lover, my chance — they were all illusions. 

I cherish them for that and forgive you, 

But wish you had not withheld what you must have known: 

Our timid tongues bruising the fruit's surface 

Could only fling our pieces upon an unleaving bush. 

Did you keep the core? Does it hang like a trophy 

In some crevice of Hell, visited by the lonely? 

For we should have gnawed that apple to its root 

And the root itself, though raging in the throat, 

Should have become our sense, all the way down. 

Am I right? That apple swallowed whole, 
The garden challenged, not a stem remaining, 
All within ourselves, bitten as a lover bites 
That his lips recall the utter taste of time? 

II SATAN TO EVE 

Vous avez raison. But your tone is wrong, 

Nearly petulant, as though you spoke with your mouth full. 

Swallow, girl, swallow! 

Oh, I'm sorry: old ironies invite fresh mockeries. 

But I, too, am disbarred from jolly Eden. 

For when you ate an axe sprang from the sun 

And split my snake to sorrow. The garden waits there, 

Dusty, unvisited, no living thing about, 

Though sometimes from my perch outside I see stirrings, 

Motes of a feeble light seeking a mirror, 

Bones of a hand fumbling for the glove of flesh. 

No . . . the core remains, rotting upon the bush 

Where you threw it 5 the ants are lugging it away, 

Piecemeal, undiscoverable, like us, deceived. 



3 1 



Dear Eve, had you swallowed heaven with a gulp, 
Even now, we would be dancing on the greensward, 
Our bodies attune to any bird that flies, 
And I, like a knight come forth to his first adventure, 
Would kneel to kiss your hand before the dazzling tourney. 



3 2 



Rimbaud 1891 

The nuns move within the wound, in the room 
Where savannahs of frost and no renewal 
Ply his tongue with gardens of farewell. 
And his head, rich with silence, a tomb 
Of words, mimics their crowsoft, gentle cries 
And receives the blessing of their eyes. 

And hands, that other nun's, prim amanuensis, 
Trap him in the sheets like a fish, 
Bestow on each raving ancient wish 
That hook of years, a sister's kiss — 
And pluck, blind, peel him to the shore 
Until the god is eaten as before. 

November come in the coffined leaf 

And the peasant dying. He sees the chateaux, 

The ruined seasons fail and flow 

Within the laggard harvest of his grief. 

O wound restless with passage, with wing — 

"Isabelle! The hung magical Christus is king." 

The nuns move within the room 5 it is safe. 

Bend the bourgeois home. Through a consecrated sheet 

May the prodigal and mother meet. 

The girl dazzles, "chere maman, he is safe." 

And the keel fends the astonished sea, 

And the million birds break journey. 



33 



Hokusai 

One day he awoke 

To find the sky a different blue $ 

The old man, all thumbs 

At that original, the true. 

How casually it came ! 

One sky, one drifting cloud, a tree 

Limned from the fusty world. 

He trembled; he was seventy-three. 

Yet there was time for mending, 
Time to rework the slavish errors 
Of a lifetime's art, time to break through 
All those laborious mirrors. 

Unmetaphored and whole, 

He would stare into the ruined west, 

Until, tutored by its wound, 

All his sight became a palimpsest. 

Then cuckoo and heron grew 
From their once faltering air 
To gesture upon his page 
Larger than the sense could bear. 

And each thing he saw: 
Inchworm, seed, dancer, or clown, 
Flung into his fingers 
Rhythms that became his own. 

Yet something still escaped. 
This was only the first of his art. 
His youth was to blame. 
O learn patience, ambitious heart! 



54 



He cursed and prayed and drew. 

At eighty, he would find the key. 

At ninety, the life of things 

Would sing in him like the Inland Sea. 

At one hundred, he thought, 
I may learn how to draw. Then he wept 
To see his hands shake and throat cough. 
He knew this truth had slept, 

And would sleep again. Fury 
Danced as the heron went flying. 
On his brush, an old man's world, 
Peacocked, sentient, dying. 



35 



Geisha in Moonlight 

Unsolar, calm by water, 
Still to you, daughter, 
Let the moon reveal 

What your hands feel 

And temper to the sea 
Your quick virginity, 
Restless in cloth of gold 

Though not yet bold. 

For a fan may grasp all space 
To painted, simple grace 5 
A samisen's harsh tune 

May mime the moon 5 

A woman at time's rim 
Is porcelain, gay hymn 
In essence unpossessed, 

Though richly dressed. 

Yet where your body sways 
Brave Heraclitus weighs 
The gain and gathered loss 
And sees you tossed 

In the wrack of a flow 
Your flowers cannot know, 
Whose fury swells the tide 
To gain your side. 

O dancer in the mist, 
Where the Kami has kissed 
His lips upon the shore, 

In dark metaphor 



36 



I see mirror and coin, 
Geisha and landscape join, 
Assume the perfect theme, 
But stay in dream. 



37 



Sebastian in Heaven 

Sleep without dreams in the bright deaths of autumn. 

The white thief is here, stealing sense from the trees, 

Looping emptiness onto emptiness. 

For whatever is touched here, fingers fumble into air, 

Whatever is tasted crumbles on the tongue, 

Whatever is held too longingly leans 

Into the vague, supernal shadows. 

He sees it as a mountain allegorically upward, 

Scentless bushes hanging color by the roadside 

Where few tillers have cared for so stern a soil. 

And the body answers like a swimmer 

Gone out beyond all vision and all voice, 

The body forlorn in its shallow lake, 

Answers his whispered prayer to drown, to drown. 

He remembers how his eyes turned over when he died, 

The sight diving within, shedding the textures, 

The busy malformations of the light $ 

How, as from an inverted chalice, his blood had run free 

To find the corridors of another life. 

Another life ! No rot and riot of beginning 

Where division in the cell, the mother-tug, 

Gagged him on the juices of a mortal sun, 

Where his eyes, below a midwife's thumb, 

Glazed themselves in the sickly fires of the seen 5 

Where he grew, puppet to all his acts: 

Acrobat, climbing the citadel of the world, 

Student, anxious for laurel and lyre, 

Lover, lost in the unfinished landscapes 

Of desire, weary of the emblem 

Bitten in his neck like mock communion . . . 

Another life! — a covenant, a choice, 

When, captain among the cohorts, hearing the sudden word, 

Among the files and tocsins, among the stones, 

38 



Hearing the cry, faith like an explosion, 

He saw his Emperor's deaths-head burgeon in the rain 

And his city drown below a singing star . . . 

This is the mountain as foretold, vertical, 

Lonely, only weeds hung out now, and the clouds low. 

Then cones not cones, pale chestnuts, the approaches 

Always higher, and the bundle of his wounds 

Starting to come loose, making him crimson 

As a tree among trees, his leaves seeking only 

The proper earth for ruin. Where will it end? 

He stops to rest, but the dust chokes him onward. 

Was it enough? The entered flag, the white sun 

Blazing in his breast: Come, steel, come, honest waking, 

Pierce! the breach of time shut in the body's evil, 

Pierce ! that nipple, bone, and lung may burn 

Away beginning! Pierce! the promise cresting 

On this red shore! Pierce! gay archers of the Lord! . . . 

He stumbles against a tree, but his hands 
Find only powder, ash, the resistless bark 
That spurns and spurs his grief. Was it enough 
That all the arrows came like benediction, 
Naming with accurate tongue their burning love? 
For going upward, dragging the bundle of his wounds, 
He feels his flesh rebel, as though that mask 
Would never have done with being. And now 
The ground beneath him falls away from sense, 
Only himself, heavy in a weightless world, 
Climbing toward rock, can know and taste and be. 
For all things fade in their indifferent dance 
Like buds withdrawn into their primal cells. 
What can the ear make of sound withdrawn 
Past possibility, silence not made of sound? 



39 



What can the eye shape from shapelessness 
But a hunchbacked wind raging in the darkness? 
What can the mouth savor of the fruit but a foam 
Of guilt, the costly martyrdom of joy? 

Almost then without knowing, without will, 

Not yet in despair or flight, he places hands 

On the frail steel wires that can still connect, 

And there in the shadowless road, pulls self from self, 

Waking in his wounds sense like a naming star, 

And turns to the downward path, to the bloody plain of time 

O empty the heavens and the coffered entrances, 
Empty the bright falconry of the distant sky, 
Empty all but the path he walks down again 
Where the honeyed earth, the late crumbs of beginning, 
mark his prayer: 

"Dear Christ, dear blessed Christ 
Of the languid promises 
And those thorny eyes 
That whispered through Golgotha's mist 

Despair to be dying young, 

All grief must glean its vision 

From a grieving tongue 

As out of earth earth gains her sun. 

Profane us, harvest our wounds 
Like fruits of the morning. 
We are haunted by a thing 
Mortal as man . . . With these words 



40 



Alone can we bless the birds 

That leap from earth's immortal fountain. 

For though the gods may someday ground their swords, 

We live not on their mountain.' ' 

His eyes open: dazzling there, the first world, the second death. 



41 



Relic 

How perfect was the skeleton of that child, 
Intact, sufficient, coiled upon itself, 
Uncovered by the machines of circumstance, 
In the untended part of our homeward yard. 

As though we bent to some sly excavation, 
Careful as the quills of scholars 
Or the forceps of a surgeon out for fame, 
We stretched the tentative fingers of first love 

To lift it from the wound where it lay 

And brought it, shining, into the sun, 

The dusty links flashing like hooks of old jewels. 

"Bone," I said, brushing away the hutch of dirt, 

"Bone is faithful to the earth it rests in. 
Look, how all terror come, the child fell here 
In some sand fortress beside a wishful sea 
To sleep away the winter of its changes. 

And then the inessential flesh lapsed to loam, 
The young bone held, the sap grew still, surrendered." 
"Then what is left," you answered, "must be real, 
Even there, where the sex was, the ultimate spaces." 

But when we stood it up to get a total view, 
The weak connections failed 5 discordantly, 
Like an unstrung harp, it fell about the field. 
We had no skill to restore those bones again. 



42 



Workaday 

"Real life is elsewhere," he read, and thought it true, 

Until she touched the springs in him, and 

Let him find that elsewhere, let him find it new 

In her hand not his hand, in her sudden mouth 

That proved a world might still be possible, 

And, all exits shut, at last he'd come to love, 

His way blocked with the cords of her giving, 

His path dumb in the silences of her hair — 

At last he would be glad that he was two. 

But what can love bear? The floor was cold, 

The pendulum kept sticking at the dawn. 

He put on seven selves, all unbuttoned still 5 

He slogged to the likeliest mirror and dove through. 

How the mailbox attempted to dissuade, 

The traffic light appall, the headline show 

He wasn't there at all. And wasn't. 

His hands felt the air, his knees pumping high 

Brought out ten thousand more; they jerked to the subway. 

Death was simple, bumping with those others, 

Whose strapped hands hung like chitlings white with dust, 

Whose eyes, long-gathered by a passing dog, 

Could not tell if real life were anywhere, 

Had any need to be. Yet held his secret: 

When he bit her lip goodbye, he kept her coin of blood, 

And one strand of her hair still ticked his nose. 

He carried them like wedding meats all day, 

Then ran home — O elsewhere! — to the life he chose. 



43 



More Games 



Your spring and your day are wasted in play 
And your winter and night in disguise. — BLAKE 



I've hid; so take your hands away now. 
You'll see the night has come 
And whether spun once or twenty times 
You'll find the park grown glum 

As unsold apples, and the chill up your legs 
Urging you to drop the game. 
But, suddenly, puffed from dark, there ! 
Ignis fatuus, the old deceiving flame, 

Flashes from behind a nearby tree 

And off you go to whirl 

Around bushes that reveal — nothing again; 

You're alone, and a little girl. 

But even if someone had been there, 
Had gnashed his teeth, joking, to be found, 
Where is the first tree your wish should touch? 
Total night has shifted all the ground. 

I'm coming now; you watch me as you sway, 
Leaning toward flight, a bit lost, 
Your cry uncertain: "all-y, all-y, in-free, 
I see him, he's dressed like a ghost!" 

I suppose it's me you see, as I see you, 
Pointing a finger, waving a hand. 
Run, darling: touch the tree and call us home, 
Where we pretend to see how we stand. 



44 



A Map to Your House 

I shan't read it 5 no, I much prefer 
Watching you sketch it large, sitting on our couch, 
Making clear what I had hoped would stay dense, 
The roads, the parkways to your innocence. 

I hate maps $ they demean the possible, 
And grant but a handful of approaches. 
This is too direct a way to meet your past 5 
Whatever I find will be full of reproaches. 

Verweile doch, said Faust, and set a theme 
By which lovers, poets, drinkers dream. 
But maps don't expect their contours to remain, 
They'll shift their borders to suit a new terrain. 

The map is done and neater than we needed. 
X marks the final spot: your ground, your air. 
How tiresome that reassembling, those objects 
Now imagined, then withdrawn. I shan't go there. 



45 



Lines for Mary 

Blank sky without, blank thoughts within. 

I rummaged in old cartons for a sign 

And found your first books with markings dim 

In borders where your passions had been. 

Lines of life brought the people bold 

Before me: Heathcliff at his window, 

Miriam in her aching gardens cold 

With unlove, and next to some letters, below 

A Shakespeare, sunk deeper then all these, 

I found your Bible like loam below the leaves. 

From childhood's myth of solid size, 

Your maiden name flecked gold against my thumb ; 

An elegant book, given as a prize, 

It weighed in my hands like kingdom come. 

I looked for passages you might have marked, 

The likeliest to be like your soul: 

A beauty and a fear at once, shocked 

Into awareness's blazing coal, 

But found so many, I wearied of the sight, 

Those recaptured runes of a ruined light. 

Yet still the text eluded me, the place 

Where past and present might fade 

In one, until the Apostle crayoned: "My grace 

Is sufficient for thee 5 for my strength is made 

Perfect in weakness." Scholarship done, 

I closed the book and saw your prayer 

In its garden unshade the ancient sun, 

And my fierce girl put on the weeds of care. 

Darling, in that attic, I put back your loss 

And in love and trembling made our single gloss. 



46 



The Quarrel 



Then the weapons are suddenly there, glittering 
In the twilight, the armory of self ransacked, 
The words cocked, the gestures honed to hurting, 
Until each bead of vanity has cracked. 

Now they close, duellists in the death of love, 
And find, from long honesties, the choicest flesh. 
Why, with such knowledge, should the other live? 
Better to drop the enemy with a wish. 

Death comes quicker than either wanted it, 

The murderers stare at the severed heads. 

Destruction, faster than either wanted it, 

Leaves them nothing to do but find their separate beds. 

II 

So he dreams: cockade, plume, silver bridle, 

Palazzo and fountain, a hero from Stendhal, 

All his virtues large, his errors boyish, 

Save the illiberal and the stupid, loved by all. 

So she dreams: passion made flawless as crystal, 

Body a Renoir tint and soul a culpable fall. 

No hours enter that are not intense — 

Save the sexless and the careful, she is loved by all. 

In such likeness of desire they cannot feel 
How the crossing of a dream can kill. 

Ill 

One moment in that complacent dawn they lay, 
Self-perfected, the corrigible nightmare 
Teasing the skull to laugh if grown too terrible. 



47 



But then the sharp edge of the sun uprose, 

Through the summer-tall blinds came beautiful 

From its rest on slate, stamped on sheet and cupboard, 

Spun in the room like a unicorn caught 

In their quarrel's thicket. Divided, unstrung, 

With the curtains roaring, their faces worked from sleep 

And gulped on the small visions of the night. 

Cold hand in cold hand lay, seeking summer, 

And pleas in the palms of renewal spoke. 

As children might mint the first morning, 

On the sills of the world, unalone, they woke. 



48 



Jealousy 

To play the game, he sends the buzzer squawking 
Three flights up to collapse unhonored on the sill, 
And, key ready anyhow, unlocks her absence, 
Every step of the stair confirming what will- 

Power he'll need, for how many hours — three? — 
One of which he spends in the sheer technique 
Of return: unhookings, washings, glimpses 
At mail, arrangings of tomorrow; it's bleak, 

Of course, but he's filling time; he exists. 
It's only when clothes are hung, shoes are back in trees, 
Three books with places marked are marked too soon, 
That all this order brings him to his knees, 

And he knows she's with him, whether by chance meeting 

At some grey intersection of his fear, 

Or by plan worthy of a General Staff, 

She's with him, and that's why she can't be here. 

Too early to call her suspect friend, 

That wife no better than a surface smile can show, 

In mid- afternoon, horn-headed once again, 

He can only plot the places they might go. 

That takes some time, working with half his mind, 

And ten minutes of television's treat 

Serves to keep that old chimera still behind. 

But that man with furrowed brow and shaking wrist 

Has just hired a hulk to trail his wife — 
How painful, and no help. Nothing will help 
Except to wish the hands around the clock, 
Telephone her friend, suppress his bleating yelp. 



49 



Just then she buzzes twice, in time to save him, 

In time to slam the phone with honor on the hook, 

But his head wobbles off his neck in answer, 

Tumbling down the stairs like the bag she's dropped in shock. 



5° 



Dialogue in Lieu of Anything Else 

"You smell of sour milk when you've been home, 

As though, once within that fusty door, 

You started tasting all the rancid shame 

You thought you left behind so long before. 

What do they do there? Lead you to a trough 

Of all the guilt nostalgic breakfasts can bestow? 

With every cunning kiss remind us both 

You've never broken free that chain below? 

Don't kiss me. I taste the town, the people, 

Those faces you wear upon your eyes: 

Your desire is a dodge, your touch is feeble, 

There's nothing in your mouth that can surprise. 

Forgive me, but I can't pretend tonight 

I've helped to free you from your manhood's blight." 

"My taste tastes me and changes with the scene. 

Should I wear a mouth-mask to keep out such germs? 

Standing on the square, I watched, as in a dream, 

The failing lives that live on failing terms, 

And could not recognize one hand that might extend 

Reunion like a mockery of joys. 

The past is on my lips tonight; there's no end 

To its kiss and what that kiss destroys. 

Yet my luggage is put up and travel's dust 

Washed almost clean. It takes some time to pare 

A hopeless heritage away, and even lust 

Must sometimes end in the ditch of old despair. 

A smell of sour milk, both literal and not, 

Should remind you where I've been, not where I've got." 



5i 



On the Plain 

We lie upon the level earth 

And space like many mouths spreads in us. 

never close again! These gorges dazzle, 
These cliffs astound to loveliness. 

We do not fall like simple rock, 
Sliding to death in dusty caverns 5 
Though we sink we seek no purling sea. 
Our language stirs in the deepest vines 
And walks us outward, 
Answering the liturgy of the light. 

1 have no wholenesses 5 

Even these shades I cannot get quite firm: 

Flash of deerfoot, beak, the tiger padding, 

And, behind us, clumsy from the forest-floor, 

The peacocks following, moulting to despair. 

But I am weary of hill and pit, 

Of upward visions curling in my head, 

Of downward threats cracking the knees to bend. 

Here in this clearing we came upon wonder 

And found, in the grief of trampled herbs, 

The honey of self heavy in the grass, 

The wind one way only. 

We must rise now. By nightfall 

We shall be over the next hill, the next plain, 

Even farther from the forest. 

Let it dream on in its silences, 

In its cool mazes, its shadowless dreads, 

Its fruits too insistent in their favors, 

Its streams too confident of source. 

What did we know of each other there 

But a blaze of being drying our lips from touch? 

On this new earth the waters break like sudden Niles. 



52 



I know that spaces will knead us, 

Death's flaming angel hunger to divide. 

We shall wither in the hands of uncreated time. 

But let your heart come whole, your limbs find echo 

In the journeying sun. Look — 

Resemblances, the good news of headlands, 

And the green paths crying ; invade us now! 



53 



Testings 

i 

My bone's a metronome teaching flesh its time. 
Walking in a skin wracked with greasy leaves, 
Headlines, candy wrappers, string from broken missals, 
I collage a self as the stray winds please. 

But break easily, staggering to a horn. 

Why does the wristwatch sweat? the masonry intrude? 

Red fox, green bee, headlong antelope, 

Lean like judges from the wood? 

Misplaced before mirrors in the hallway, 

Among the lost sad caps of passage, 

My father's father, wet from his vanished bog, 

Knocked, entered, signalled, stripped off his hands 

Like gloves, his feet like leggings — and I dressed, 

Dressed to discover nametags everywhere, 

In the hip-pocket a bulky world. 

In his skin I skimmed a century, 

Swooped from weeds, hung ghostly in the swamps, 

Hand in bony hand tread down his track, 

And threshed old graves to find some hair to cry in . . . 

Come, clackety bone, clack me a self to lay on. 
My body's a sailor's meat tattooed by a travelled thumb, 
Moaning through hearts and flowers the old incisions: 
Who am I? What am I? From what do I come? 

I am beads heaped under carnival glass, 
Longing for their crooked crane ; I am dye 
For the world's vestment — though all flesh is grass, 
I learn to choose my pleasure and my pain. 



54 



II 

For what he had hoped — elusive 

Hands like tobacco leaves might be 

When on spring bark the palms thrust alive 

Find the ticks emerging sweetly 

To prove that he could taste with hands 

What no brain cell understands — 

This had not come round. Yet saw him- 

Self still in that old guise, 

Experimenter on the brim 

Of a reality, his eyes 

Unbooked to the bark's pale zero, 

Making himself the story's hero. 

Then spoiled the deed that it was done 

So meanly — that touching of the tree. 

His shadow knew — and the sun, 

Doubling his treachery. 

Within the gold of heaven caught, 

He touched the quick of tree with thought. 

Ill INSTANCES 

1 

Between anklebone and heel precisely tasting sunlight, 
The woman stirs in her sacrificial gladiator's smock, 
Until, sure as snails, tongue ferrets out the moonlight, 
And her knees wake in shock. 

O milieu that itches hand to sketch but not to say ! 
Below the salt of words the buttery sun drenching beds, 
The startled toes spreading like startled heads, 
Lizards, chameleons opening up the day . . . 



55 



We bake here like brown summery things 
Cast on a ground that cannot shrieve them, 
Pinned to a tear that will not leave them, 
And drown before the first bell rings. 

2 

Your noon bath lingers by my desk, 

One scent on another whitely acrid, 

For, nuzzling your passing shoulder, I took hold 

Of your essence from armpit to scrubbed wrist. 

Now, your door shut, your habits laid out to mask, 

I taste that I exist. 

3 
To bite the shade behind her knee, the sun 

Warming as she walks, or in the crook of elbow 

To skim the teeth across as with a fruit 

Long pondered in its cup than downed at once! 

Such obsessions stir me on my walk, 

But content with any tasty blade, I loll 

Upon the concrete cracks and dusty blooms of June, 

Savoring my lifetime's peck of dirt. 

In summer there are no chestnuts shaped like memory, 
No dodge of remember but a doge of touch, 
When she stops, turns, presents her knees, 
Breaks me in the crook of her bare arm . . . 

IV 

From the others on the table I lift the walnut, 

Rocky, ribbed, livelier than stone, 

And roll between my fingers its wizened bone. 



56 



Elephant's skin is like that, lined, but 

Deeper in its mysteries, the great heart within. 

I hold it up: the center membrane pinches my thumb, 

Most easily split there, if hands were all, 

And hands and wills were equal. 

With the cracker, an elegant French thumbscrew, 

I could crush its sides, watch the shell writhe back, 

Mangled dry wounds fleshed to a punishing blue. 

But, today, I shan't crack through to feeding, 
But will count the sweet externals, the coy ridges, 
Crevasses, wrinklings, pits, and bridges 
My fingers seek as though they were not me. 
And are not me, thank God. 

I shut the walnut in my palm 5 

Not one of its hundred lines is like me. 

I shut the walnut in its calm 5 

Not one of its walls weighs my tumbling urgency. 

I am content. 






57 



/ 



£71. S</ 



Waking in a tree; main 
811.54H893wC2 



3 12L.2 033E0 DEED 







W, W 



J